A September survey by the Southern Baptist Convention‘s Lifeway Christian Resources shows that Southern Baptists have a more favorable reputation than Mormons and Muslims — but less positive than Methodists and Catholics.

The study was done in part to assist an SBC task force that has been considering whether to recommend a less regional — and perhaps, less sullied — name for Southern Baptists, who have garnered their share of negative publicity in recent years.

When asked to rate how favorably they viewed each of five large faith groups, respondents gave the highest favorability ratings to Methodists (62 percent) and Catholics (59 percent), with Southern Baptists getting a “favorable” nod from 53 percent. Mormons (37 percent) and Muslims (28 percent) received the lowest ratings.

A better indicator may have come from another question. When asked how strongly they agree with the statement, “When I see (fill in denominational affiliation) in the name of a church, I assume it is not for me,” more than a third (35 percent) said they “strongly agree” that seeing “Southern Baptist” in the name would indicate it was not a church for them. That’s slightly higher than for Catholics (33 percent), Baptists in general (29 percent), Methodists (26 percent), and community or nondenominational churches (20 percent).

Slightly tweaking the question brought an even more negative response. When asked: “If you were considering visiting or joining a church, would knowing that the church was Southern Baptist impact your decision positively, negatively or have no impact?”, 44 percent said it would negatively affect their decision. Thirty-six percent said it wouldn’t impact their thinking, while 10 percent said they’d see it as a plus.

Not surprisingly, given the current apathy toward denominations, community or nondenominational churches ranked highest as a possible fit (58 percent). Baptists in general were seen as a potential church home by 44 percent, Catholics by 43 percent, Methodists by 42 percent, and Southern Baptists by 38 percent.

The study found, as one might expect, that Protestants (22 percent) and persons who attend religious services weekly (30 percent) were more likely to feel “very favorable” toward Southern Baptists. Subgroups most likely to have a “very unfavorable” view were non-church-goers (44 percent), Hispanics (29 percent), residents of small cities (26 percent), and young adults aged 18-29 (25 percent).

Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, said he is “hopeful the results will be useful to the members as well as to all Southern Baptists seeking to be more effective in their witness by better understanding the culture in which their churches exist.”

At the moment, it’s not an overly friendly culture, and not just toward Southern Baptists.

Can churches, Southern Baptist or otherwise, turn it around? Can they overcome their judgmental reputation as political busybodies and become better known as people marked by love and compassion?

What do you think?


[Graphic courtesy of LifeWay Resources]

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